It’s assumed by almost everyone heading into 2013-14 that Miikka Kiprusoff will opt out of the final year of his contract and head back to Finland to fish and be revered as demi-god by his countrymen. The soon-to-be 37 year old netminder suffered through the worst stretch of his Flames tenure in the lock-out shortened season, struggles that were compounded by injury. His below replacement level performance, mixed with the organization’s lackluster redundancy in net, resulted in the club’s plunge down to the bottom of the Western Conference and kick-started the rebuild. Kipper himself would have been one of the assets moved at the deadline along with Iginla and Bouwmeester, but he leveraged the threat of retiring to short circuit a move to Toronto.
The Flames have operated this summer as if Kipper is already gone. Karri Ramo was signed to a two year deal and Joey MacDonald was re-upped as well. 26-year old Swiss Veteran Reto Berra will also be in the mix while Joni Ortio and Laurent Brossoit will jockey for playing time in the minors.
The thing is, Kipper hasn’t retired. Not officially at least (regardless of what he has said to the Finnish press), so there remains the possibility, however remote, that he will show up at the Flames training camp in a months time with pads in hand. What then?
The first option is obviously to let him duel with Ramo for the starters role. Although he was putrid last season, I doubt Kipper’s 2013-14 performance is actually representative of his true talent, even given his advancing age. He hasn’t been truly elite for some time, but I would expect him to be at least around league average in the short-term.
Of course, Kiprusoff staying in Calgary means the Flames retain his $5.83M cap hit (despite a $1.5M actual salary) and it creates a logjam in the crease. Neither of those are huge concerns, frankly, since the Flames boast a lot of unused budget space and there’s no particular up-and-coming talent who would be terribly sidelined by one more year of Kipper clogging the crease (that we know of at this point), but then again those are also minor costs with no real return.
Kipper’s not getting any better. Even if he rebounds from his lackluster lock-out year, he is entering the steep down curve of his career. There’s no tangible long term upside for the team if Kipper comes back and splits time with Ramo. In fact, one of the organization’s problems the last few years was their enduring inability or unwillingness to move on from the hero of 2004 and start to seriously investigate alternatives. The Flames probably won’t be contending for anything this season, so it would be best served testing out their various options like Ramo and Berra in order to firmly judge just what they have in those players. Kipper getting any sort of playing time in their stead is counter-productive to the club’s objectives beyond 2013-14.
If Miikka is determined to play out his contract, then the Flames best option would be to move him to whoever might have interest. The Leafs are not an option now that they’ve acquired Jonathan Bernier, so a short list of possible trading partners got a bit shorter this summer.
The New York Islanders and Columbus Blue Jackets are a pair of clubs with underwhelming depth behind their incumbents – for CBJ, it’s Curtis McElhinney behind Sergei Bobrovsky and for NYI it’s Kevin Poulin behind Evgeni Nabokov. New York has ample cap space (about $15M) while the Flames and Jackets would have to get creative in order to fit Kiprusoff under the Jackets’ ceiling.
There is also the Predators, who don’t seem to have a back-up for Pekka Rinne. Former second rounder Magnus Hellberg had a decent season in the AHL last year, but the 22-year old hasn’t even played 40 games on North American ice yet. Carter Hutton, a 27-year old AHL journeyman, is the only other puck stopper currently under contract with the Preds.
Like Columbus, Nashville doesn’t quite have enough space to fit Kipper, so again the Flames would have to eat some cap or take a contract back in the deal to make it work.
Naturally, the probability of this option is dependent on how much demand there would be for a 37-year old tender coming off a terrible year and boasting a nearly $6M cap hit. It would also depend on Kipper agreeing to be traded, unlike the deadline where he nixed a move to the Leafs. Calgary’s (or the trading partner’s) options in that case are limited to suspending the player for not living up to the terms of his contract I suppose.
Another rather unsavoury option would be to send the veteran to the minors in order to ensure playing time for Ramo and company in the NHL. This pushes the logjam down the depth chart a bit and under the new rules of the revised CBA, Kipper’s big cap hit wouldn’t disappear, so it’s less than ideal. To say nothing of demoting a former beloved star to the AHL in the final year of his last NHL contract (although they were willing to do it to Conroy).
A move like this would more or less be a veiled nudge to the player to retire, which I’m guessing is what Kipper would do rather than ride buses for the Heat.
If Kipper decides to return to the NHL, I think it would behoove both himself and the team to investigate whether he could be traded before training camp arrives. There’s no good reason, besides perhaps nostalgia, for him to don a Flames jersey again. Meaning, the possibility of Kipper playing for someone else should be determined prior to training camp and the onset of the year, because things could get pretty awkward for both parties otherwise.
On the other hand, Kiprusoff could officially retire in the next few weeks, rendering all of this moot.